SACRAMENTO -- It’s not often you see a game captured in a nutshell before the ball goes up for the opening tip.
In the Kings’ 134-120 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night, Buddy Hield lallygagged around the bench area, giving fist bumps to 15 to 20 people before finally joining the other nine starters on the court while still tucking in his shirt.
This is Hield’s standard routine, but the officiating crew had seen enough and called the Kings’ starting shooting guard for a delay of game ... before there was an actual game.
The Kings’ 23-35 record is not solely Hield’s fault, but this is something that has gone on all season. When the team talks about focusing on the “little things,” this should be part of that discussion.
There have simply been too many nights this season where the Kings just weren't ready to compete, or they couldn't follow the game plan or they couldn't close out a game. The Kings have lacked the attention to detail required to win, which is just one reason they've lost 10 out of their last 11 games and why they're set to miss the NBA playoffs for the 15th consecutive season.
“The message stays the same: When we play consistent basketball, we have a chance to win. When we don’t, it’s going to look like tonight,” Harrison Barnes said in a video conference Tuesday.
It’s a frustrating feeling to lose so many games and to have the central theme be almost identical in all of them. Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, the Kings seem to believe that they can outscore any opponent they run up against.
They rely so heavily on their offense that they almost seem to ignore the defensive end entirely. It’s about racing to get the ball out of the basket and head back to the other end to put up more points.
Sacramento shows bursts of defensive intensity, but it’s always short-lived.
“As far as what I think we’re missing,” veteran Moe Harkless asked. “I think just a little bit of consistency. We came out last game with that defensive effort against a team like Dallas, who is a pretty good offensive team. And we’ve got to carry that over.”
The Kings weren’t perfect against the playoff-bound Mavericks on Sunday, but they battled and came away with a win to snap a nine-game losing streak.
Sacramento lacked intensity from the opening tip Tuesday, and it was clear the Kings needed a monster night from someone just to have a chance.
When that performance didn’t come, it was lights out once again.
“We played back and forth a lot for the whole game, pretty much,” Harkless added. “That’s not how we’re going to win. We have to find some consistency on the defensive end because we can’t just think we’re going to have a shootout every night and win.”
It has to be infuriating for the coaching staff, all the way down to the final player on the bench. The Kings have talent and their depth is much improved since the trade deadline, but they show up with a different mentality every time they step on the court.
To add to this loss specifically, a limited number of front-line workers were allowed into Golden 1 Center to watch a Kings game for the first time in 13 months. This was an opportunity to shine against a struggling opponent with a small, but supportive fan base.
As the Kings added the stretch, they earned some boos.
Where do the Kings go from here? With just 14 games remaining in the season, Walton isn’t ready to mail it in. He wants his team to play it out.
“For us right now, we’re playing these games to win these games,” Walton said. “An important part of developing, especially developing winning habits, which is what we’re trying to get done here, is playing a certain way, rewarding a certain type of action, rewarding a certain type of play and trying to win some games going into the offseason so there’s a little bit of momentum built up and some good energy.”
That’s all well and good, but the Kings aren’t playing the type of basketball that would lend itself to a positive finish. The losses are stacking up at an alarming rate, regardless of who the opponent is.
At some point, you have to admit that there is a good chance that this group can’t have a strong finish. That they can’t build momentum by turning in inconsistent play every game. That reality should have hit a few weeks back.
None of that seems to be the case.